Norma Carr grew up playing sports when there were no high school programs for girls, no college scholarships for young women.
When she attended BYU in the mid-1960s, Carr participated on extramural teams in softball, basketball, volleyball, tennis, archery and field hockey. But in those days, the women had to coach and referee themselves.
As a teacher at Davis High School, Carr lobbied the Utah High School Activities Association to sanction more sports for girls. She was met with vitriol and sexist comments. She remembers men telling her, “If a woman plays sports, her uterus will fall out.” They argued that sports would make women masculine, and said a woman’s place was at home.
But then the federal government on June 23, 1972, passed Title IX, the landmark legislation that ruled no one could be “on the basis of sex, excluded from participation, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
“Sports teaches everybody life skills, and that’s what [Title IX] did for these young women,” said Carr, who retired in 2014 after spending 25 years as the athletic director at Salt Lake Community College. “It gives them the opportunity to grow physically, mentally, emotionally, socially.”
In the 50 years since Title IX became law, women’s sports have flourished across the country. In Utah, the women’s basketball teams at BYU and the University of Utah have reached the NCAA Tournament several times. The Utes women’s gymnastic team is a national power with multiple Olympians on the roster.
In the professional world, women’s sports have seen significant progress in recent years. The National Women’s Soccer League negotiated its first-ever collective bargaining agreement, while U.S. Soccer gave its women’s team equal pay after years of litigation. The WNBA has also seen increased media coverage and television ratings.
“It’s cool to see that we’re finally getting a little bit more traction and giving women’s sports a little more attention,” said Ashley Hatch, a former BYU women’s soccer standout who now plays professionally and for the U.S.
Title IX required colleges and universities to provide the same opportunities for men and women, whether that was sports, scholarships, grant money or facilities. It was extended to transgender people in 2021.
But with as much progress that has been made, some say there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Carr said there are still plenty of inequities when it comes to pay and facilities. She recalled a high school softball coach contacting her within the last year and lamenting that her team had only one hour of practice time at the batting cages, while the high school baseball team and a community team each had much more time.
Last season, each member of the men’s basketball team at BYU received a laptop, but none of the players on the women’s team did. Former guard Paisley Harding said at the time that the men were told not to tell the women’s players about the laptops.
Harding posted about the incident on her TikTok account with the caption, “at least we get to play sports.” On the video itself, she wrote, “When you find out the men’s team got laptops and you didn’t but you’re celebrating title 9 this week.” She posted the video on Feb. 11.
For Harding, it was just another example of how much progress is yet to be made for women in sports.
“We’ve made jumps, but there are more mountains we have to climb,” Harding said at the time.
Charmelle Green, a former Utes softball player who served as Deputy Title IX Coordinator at Penn State, wants to see more women being able to have their voices heard during conversations where decisions are made.
“Where I see a decision-maker still needing to be better is making sure that women aren’t excluded from those strategic decisions that are made within our departments and on our campuses,” said Green, who now is a deputy athletics director at Utah.
Hatch thinks more strides can still be made from an exposure standpoint. In her eyes, simply putting women’s sports in front of more eyes makes a huge difference. What she feels still needs improvement, though, is support.
“I feel like the challenge that I face and a lot of girls face and we still even face kind of at this level in the professional world is people not taking us as seriously as we take ourselves and not believing in us as much as we believe in ourselves,” Hatch said.
Several former BYU women’s basketball players gave credit to Athletic Director Tom Holmoe for listening to their needs and following through on requests — from things as small as soap dispensers in their showers to as big as chartered flights during the conference season.
The Cougars also wanted pregame lineup introductions that mirrored the men — turning the lights out in the Marriott Center and getting a highlight package projected onto a large white curtain that extends from the ceiling to the court.
Earlier this year, Davis High welcomed back to campus alumnae who played a part in fighting for women’s sports in the pre-Title IX days. What Carr liked about that experience was seeing what those women became — coaches, teachers, community leaders.
“It just validated that this fight 50 years ago was worth it,” Carr said.